Some may know Chanticleer as the “clear singing” rooster from Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, and this past Saturday’s a cappella concert saw 12 clear singing voices on the stage of Rosse Hall. In countertenor, tenor, baritone and bass, the members of Chanticleer sing many genres of music, from Renaissance madrigals to modern pop ballads. Their voices cover every voice part that a traditional co-ed choir would sing, making men sing in ranges traditionally reserved for women.
The doors of Rosse Hall did not open until half an hour before the concert began, but the line to enter stretched across the lawn and Middle Path and halfway to Peirce Dining Hall. Students, especially those from the music department, made up a large portion of the audience. Fans of Chanticleer also came from Mount Vernon, Columbus and even out of state. The concert was free and open to the public. Chanticleer sang from their new 2017 program — “Heart of a Soldier.”
The program included two hours of music that described the life of a soldier in Latin, French, Italian, Russian and English. Some highlights included a piece with lyrics from Walt Whitman called “Drum-Taps,” in which Chanticleer percussively sang the word “drum,” emphasizing the underlying suspense present in the story of a soldier’s mother who receives a letter from her son.
“Whitman is very direct,” Professor of Music Ben Locke said about the piece. “There is a certain somber reality to the pain and suffering that goes with war.”
According to Jonathan Hernandez ’21, a Chanticleer fan and chamber singer, “My Blood is Blazing with Desire” was a crowd favorite. It is a Russian piece by Mikhail Glinka about a soldier who dreams of his lover. “That got my blood flowing and gave me goosebumps,” he said.
Chanticleer met with the Kenyon College Chamber Singers to workshop pieces earlier in the day. This reporter is a member of the Chamber Singers. “We found that they had some very important things to say to us about phrasing, text and pronunciation,” Locke said of Chanticleer. But he wasn’t sure whether or not they would incorporate all of Chanticleer’s suggestions. “It really is a question of taste and what a particular conductor may want,” he said.
Either way, chamber singer Hayley Yussman ’18 thought the workshop was “amazing.”
“I looked them up when I heard they were coming [to Kenyon],” she said, “and I fell in love.”
Throughout their performance, Chanticleer performed exceptionally. Never inactive, never boring and never flat, these are singers at the peak of their ability. They played with the audience, lending drinking songs and raunchy French ballads a mischievous tilt while also giving the more mournful pieces time in the spotlight. They brought life and meaning to pieces that were separated from most of the audience by the divide of time and language and made us all feel a little bit like soldiers returning from war. The audience jumped to their feet at the final chord, bringing the singers out for three bows and an encore.
“When there are students in the audience who are excited about what’s happening,” Chanticleer member Adam Ward said, “that’s what makes a really great audience, that’s when you get a lot of energy.”
Hernandez, who whistled and clapped throughout the bows, found few words to say afterward. “Divine,” he said. “Just divine.”